ISTANBUL: Turkish authorities combed through video and witness statements on Wednesday following an assault by three suicide bombers at the country’s largest airport, seeking to reconstruct an attack that killed at least 41 people and threatened to plunge Turkey into deeper uncertainty.
The death toll included 23 Turks and 18 foreigners, including at least five from Saudi Arabia and others from nations ranging from Palestine to Tunisia and China, an Istanbul governor’s official said. At least 147 people were wounded.
Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said early on Wednesday that Daesh was behind the assault late on Tuesday at the international arrivals terminal of Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport.
There has been no claim of responsibility for the bloodshed at the airport — one of the busiest in the world, handling more than 60 million passengers each year.
During the attacks, one petrified honeymoon couple hugged each other inside a hair salon cupboard as shots rang out outside, praying the gunmen would not find them.
Other survivors crouched under check-in counters frantically weighing up whether to stay put or flee.
Armed police stand guard outside the entrance to the terminal building at Istanbul’s Ataturk International Airport after a coordinated terror attack on Tuesday night. AFP
Amid the chaos, some watched the horror unfold on smartphones or told their stories live on social media.
Many were left not knowing for hours whether loved ones were alive or dead.
Security cameras captured passengers scattering desperately as a huge ball of flame erupted at one entrance. Other footage showed a black-clad gunman blowing himself up after apparently being floored by a police marksman’s shot.
Otfah Mohammad Abdullah was checking her luggage in when she saw one of the attackers pull out a hidden gun and begin shooting.
“He’s shooting up, two times, and he’s beginning to shoot people like that,” she told AFPTV.
Dead and wounded travellers lay strewn about Ataturk airport, leaving hundreds in utter shock. AFP
“Everybody started running in different directions when the shooting started. I hid under the counter where I was standing and a couple of the ground staff did the same,” South African university administrator Judy Favish told eNCA television in her home country.
Analyst Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Programme at The Washington Institute, described it as a “symbolic attack against the heart of Turkey”.
“If [Daesh] is indeed behind this attack, this would be a declaration of war. Turkey’s vengeance will come down like rain from hell on [Daesh].”
The attack prompted the suspension of all flights at the airport, but operations were resuming on Wednesday with some delays.
Anxious relatives await any news on passengers caught up in the Ataturk attack. Reuters
Japanese woman Yumi Koyi was waiting for her flight to Tokyo when the attacks began and she was swept up in a scramble to escape. “I heard gunshots so it was really panicking, everyone together.”
Latvian businessman Rihards Kalnins told AFP that those inside the terminal had no way of knowing what was happening.
“There was just panic about what was going on. People were running, screaming. I didn’t know what was going on. At first I thought it was a fight or something like that. I had no idea.”
New York-based Iraqi journalist Steven Nabil said he was on his way home from his honeymoon when he was caught up in the drama, which he depicted in a series of tweets.
He had left his wife in a cafe while he went to get food on a different floor. “Heard shots, ran fast toward her,” he wrote.
“Came down the stairs to see the court empty and the terrorist firing towards us.
“We then took cover in a closet inside a hair salon. The 45 minutes we were sitting ducks waiting to find out who will open the door.
“When the bullets were close, I hugged and kissed her.”